Vicki Fichter works as a dispatcher for Chicago Board Up Services, but lately she has also been asked to moonlight as a crystal ball. This week, around fifty businesses in the city have called requesting quotes for a disturbing scenario: They want to shutter storefronts ahead of election day.
“Everyone asks me, what will the next couple of weeks bring? Will the unrest come next week?’” Fichter told The Daily Beast. “I’m like, ‘Don’t ask me. I’m not going to be the judge of anything political.’”
The week before Election Day, social media filled with images of major cities seemingly closed down, expecting unrest to come. “I never thought I would see so many buildings here in the nation’s capital boarded-up on the eve of a presidential election in anticipation of possible unrest,” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer tweeted. “And it’s not just in D.C. It’s happening in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere around the country. So sad!”
Donald Trump Jr. responded, “You a-holes and your liberal agenda built that,” failing to acknowledge his father’s habit of stoking potentially violent election day interference.
Of course, November 3 will not be the first time this year that commercial neighborhoods braced for impact. Wood paneling drilled over windows has become a ubiquitous sight in shopping districts since May, when the murder of George Floyd fueled a national protest movement. Though the majority of those demonstrations have been peaceful, in some instances that anger has erupted into raucous unrest.
Fichter has worked in the industry for a decade; she’s never dealt with the kind of demand 2020 has required. “This has just been a very unsettling six months,” she said. “So many things have happened in a row. We have been very busy, on and off, since [protests began] in May. Then we were busy in August, and again now. But we’ve never done this for any election. This is a first for all of us.”
WWD reported that the New York flagship stores for Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue have been boarded up. Outside of Saks, the joyless display of drilled-down wood clashes with its gilded facade.
Downtown, SoHo outposts of Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Moncler were also blacked out. A rep for Nordstrom, on 57th Street, told the trade publication that the department store would close early on Election Day.
According to The New York Times, Beverly Hills police will close Rodeo Drive as a “proactive approach.” Last week, representatives for Walmart told The Wall Street Journal that the mega-chain would remove guns and ammunition from sales floors. They later reversed this decision.
When Marshalls customers in Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, saw two storefronts boarded up, the Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad released a Facebook statement that read, “There is nothing to be concerned about at this time and the police department will continue to work to provide a safe and secure election.”
A USA Today/Suffolk poll revealed that 3 out of 4 surveyed voters “express[ed] concerns about the possibility of violence on Election Day.” Boarded-up shops serve as an immediate visual reminder of nationwide anxiety.
The Sunday and Monday before Election Day, Fichter had booked 12 jobs around the city of Chicago. “Right now, we’re doing a lot of preventative medicine, so to speak,” she said. “We’re a bit swamped, because I only have two trucks [to send out].”
Owners want to wait until the last minute to put up wood panels. “The biggest concern is how it looks,” Fichter said. “As of yesterday and today, nobody wants to board up too early. You don’t want it to look crappy. I don’t blame them.”
According to Fichter, services in Chicago can cost between $500 and $850. “A lot of those little mom and pop retail places would rather spend $500 to board up than $5,000 to fix broken glass,” she said. “And unfortunately, insurance doesn’t pay for preventative work. There is no government grant for these owners, and that’s what’s sad. No one will reimburse them.”
James Smythe, general manager of New York’s Cipco Boarding, Inc, added that his office is “going a little crazy” right now.
“Everyone’s calling up for prices,” he said. “We started getting phone calls on Wednesday, and by Thursday we were blowing up.” By Election Day, the company will have boarded “about a dozen or two dozen” big retail stores and 20 “mom and pop” shops.
“They’re worried about rioting, whether it’s Trump winning and people are pissed off or it’s Biden winning and they’re celebrating,” Smythe said, adding, “This is the worst I’ve seen for an election.”